Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Tapping into the Underground

Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Tapping into the Underground

Article excerpt

Lost Rivers

Caroline bacle (director), Canada: catbird films, 2012, 72 minutes.

As the creator of Lost Rivers describes we've practiced a bad habit in our built environment. "We built our cities on the shores of rivers," narrates the Montreal-based writer, researcher and director. "Over time, we pushed rivers away--out of sight and out of reach."

To isolate the ills of this predicament and some applied solutions for dealing with it, Caroline Bacle's film plunges into the past, present and future of waterways beneath cities around the world. One of this sharp, thoughtful documentary's many strengths is its varied cast of characters, all deeply immersed in different river reclamation efforts, from disassembling infrastructure to excavating antiquities to urban infiltration (literally just for the hell of it). Bade also weaves in archival material (explaining how London's cholera epidemic in the late-1800s led to 3,200 km of bricked-in sewers, for example) and some outstanding underground footage and flash-lit photography guided by "drainers," a global subculture of stealthy explorers that are "fascinated by the entrails of cities."

As one of the drainers puts it, everything above ground has been documented. This film offers the flipside. It also tries to point out the elephant under our feet. Paved surfaces--which can't absorb water--are the prevailing glitch in our system. And because an unprecedented number of people living in cities are putting an unnatural strain on natural watersheds and wastewater management, sustainable density remains a major conundrum for ever-increasing urbanization. …

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